why do we still have dedicated astrologers?

January 26, 2011

Somehow over the last week, a number of space and science blogs are discussing, of all things, astrologers who managed to get in the news after the media suddenly discovered the decades old fact that all the ancient constellations named when astronomy was in its infancy have moved since then due to our planet’s wobbles in orbit, and their petition to the BBC demanding that the media titan do something about physicist Brian Cox and comedian Dara O’Briain, who had the temerity to call astrology rubbish. Really? We still have astrologers who want attention and respect to what was considered a pseudoscience when leeches were deemed to be viable treatments for the plague and people were busy turning lead into gold with caustic concoctions in giant cauldrons? Hasn’t a civilization that has spacecraft, nuclear reactors, and cyborgs outgrown the notion that a cold-reader could predict the future by drawing lines between stars? And yet, here they are, demanding that a respectable news entity like the BBC presents "a fair and balanced representation of astrology." And science blogger and editor Martin Robbins actually happens to agree with this idea. As he puts it in the above link…

I’d love to see the BBC give a fair and balanced representation of astrology. Sod it, let’s extend that to all newspapers as well. Such a representation would depict astrology as a pseudoscience with no real basis in evidence, which was already being ridiculed in the Dark Ages, and note that after thousands of years astrologers still can’t produce statistically meaningful results. It would observe that any apparent successes of astrology probably owe more to [astrologers’] use of cold-reading techniques, convenient vagueness, and the exploitation of psychological quirks like confirmation bias or the Forer effect, expressing amazement at the continued ability of the astrological industry to lift hundreds of millions of euros, pounds and dollars out of the pockets of customers…

And really, it’s comical to see astrologers bent out of shape because people who actually have a grasp on the science behind stargazing don’t mince words and call astrology what it is: nonsense. If astrologers had a real ability to predict what will happen to us in the future past the generic "this is a good month to change jobs" or some vaguely positive missive about how good it is to be alive, you could bet that they’d be in demand by just about every major company and the military would trip over itself to recruit as many of them as possible to get an early warning about the next attack, and not only by some eccentric CEO or superstitious general. If you’re forewarned that as a Sagittarius, you shouldn’t trade stocks on the market for two weeks in November, or that because the commander of an enemy army is a Gemini, he’ll have the worst luck in organizing his soldiers to repel your attack over the next ten days, you’d have a huge advantage. But you won’t. Go ahead and check the horoscope. You’ll find generic, positive cold reading which uses the same ideas for every sign, and if you’re willing to press astrologers about that, they’ll start going on and on about how only they and their friends really understand The One True Astrology™ and that everyone else is just a poser. And they’ll be sure to cite some time astrologers correctly "predicted" something, forgetting to mention the millions of failed predictions they’d made between each successful one. It’s as if they were, oh I don’t know, just randomly guessing…

So ladies and germs, let’s consign astrologers to the same bin in which we put modern day geocentrists on a desperate quest for attention, alchemists, and bloodletting to balance the four humors. Not only is it even older than the other long-discarded pseudosciences of the past, it’s just as wrong, and it’s embarrassing that we actually have astrologers demanding that we ask the Moon how it feels about us exploring it, and trying to tie menstrual cycles to the lunar orbit, then demanding respect with a straight face. Respect is earned, not simply given to anyone who demands it, and if you want to be respected, do something to earn it. Astrologers are little more than a persistent reminder of how far we’ve come in the past 2,500 years and why we’re better off for it. And this stunt asking for the BBC to give two sides to a story that only has one for the sake of letting a crank vent some steam or show his ignorance on TV is frankly ridiculous, especially when this ignorance is a lecture on the amazing powers of something that even Medieval witch hunters and doctor-barbers considered to be impotent Occultism at best or just a really silly peasant superstition at worst…

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  • Sadly, newspapers, magazines etc keep paying them and people keep buying their books (which don’t even have the decency to be absorbent…)

  • Josh

    Damn Greg, vent much?

    I suspect that at some time in your past an astrologer was an ass to you (as if they arent asses all the time). It would be pretty cool if when a stupid TV morning show brought on their resident loon they also brought you out on stage (for the sake of balance of course) it would be a riot and probably the best television in a decade.

  • Greg Fish

    “Damn Greg, vent much?”

    Well, if you peruse some of my older posts, you may notice that I certainly do like to vent my spleen on a regular basis. It’s cathartic, seems to be fun for the audience, and yes, I do stand by every word.

    “I suspect that at some time in your past an astrologer was an ass to you…”

    And you’d suspect right. But that has nothing to do with why I think astrology is junk. In fact the raging astrologer in question was upset that I pointed out why the whole thing was ridiculous and worthless.

  • Josh

    Apologies if i came across as criticising your post in my comment, it was obviously poorly written . I agree whole heartedly with your analysis of astrology and tell my mother and my older sister that they are loons on a daily basis for even reading that tripe.
    My comment about an astrologer being an ass to you was not removing from the fact that astrology is bunk but rather was a comment on the your obvious personal experience with the subject which came across in the way you so totally ragged on it.

    Again apologies if my comment was misunderstood due to my poor writing skills.

  • HikerTom

    I am reminded of the time the Amazing Randi (on TV) took horoscopes to a college class. Many of the students said it was an accurate read for them. But, it turned out Randi had given them all the same one (as another example of the Forer effect)! If that isn’t enough to blow astrology out of the water I don’t know what will.

  • Paul

    Dave Hubble,
    “Sadly, newspapers, magazines etc keep paying them”

    You got that backwards. It’s been a long time since the newspapers paid someone to write the astrology column. Nowadays, the astrology column is an advert for the 1900-STARS service that pays for the space. That’s why they are still printed, they make money for the paper.

    Your column is titled, “Why do we still have dedicated astrologers”, but it is a rant against the existence of astrology in general. Yet the title-topic is more interesting. You can buy astrology software. The rules are quite well established. Even if you believe in astrology why do you need a dedicated astrologer. Freeware astrology software (or app) should give every Believer their “forecast”.

    Astrology is not about the stars, the predictions, etc. It’s about sad people having someone to talk to. At $4.95/min.